Minoan Crete

Introduction to Minoan Crete Part 4


Last week, we explored men’s and women’s fashions in Minoan society. What were their daily lives like? What did they eat? What kind of occupations were prominent among them? These are some of the questions this article will answer.


The Minoans, like the ancient Greeks, ate a variety of foods. Goat’s cheese, barley bread, and olives were the staples of their diet. They also grew olives for export. Writers living in that time period considered Minoans excellent growers of fruit (figs and herbs) and it’s quite possible that the art of cultivation was discovered by the Minoans early in their civilization as it was in other areas of the Bronze Age.

Seafood, especially young squid, was found in plenty. However meat wasn’t consumed by peasants at all and may have been a rare feast only for his betters. This may have been because killing animals in the ancient world was a sacred event (as it remained down into ancient Greek times). Sacrifices could easily become an excuse for feasting, where the gods received a much smaller portion than they might have warranted if they had been real entities.

As mentioned in a previous article, the Minoans were not a people bogged down by a multitude of religious practices. It can be said quite accurately that most every practice of life was connected to religion in one way or another. Sports in the Aegean were usually in relation to a religious ceremony and were, in fact, in honor of one god. Dancing and bull-games were also intertwined with religion. Minoans were famous for their dance and have gone down into legend as the best of dancers. Dancing was usually gay and exciting, and many times a feeling of ecstasy accompanied the rhythm of the dance. The Minoans played the lyre, the sistrum (to mark time with) as well as the flute. To put it simply, they took their pleasure seriously.

What did Minoans do when they weren’t dancing and feasting? Like you and me, they worked, While ninety percent of the population were peasants, the other ten percent were ... should I let you guess? Would you have guessed they were the aristocracy or the upper class? I’m sorry to say but you would not be correct. The remaining ten percent of the Minoan population was made up of seamen as well as merchants and craftsmen who created the precious parts of the cargo.

Minoan ships were a work of art. The average ship was 14 feet wide by 70 feet long (and sometimes as much as 100 feet long) and, were despite their size, graceful on the high seas. The ship had no more than 15 oars on one side, had one square-rigged sail amidships and was steered by a long sweep rather than a rudder (which was an invention of the A.D. period). The sailors transported olives (in great jars), olive oil, wine and raisins. Their trips abroad were usually routine and monotonous. They sailed from Crete to Egypt, along the coast of Palestine and Syria, along to Cyprus and then home using the Dodecanese islands.

Who were the men who crafted these graceful ships? Craftsmen who were more respected and highly placed in Minoan society than they are today. They made up a good part of Minoan society. it is thought that in the early Minoan period, craftsmen sailed to Egypt to learn their trade but in the last days of Minoan Crete, they most likely sailed to Mycenae where they decorated the palaces.

Sailors of Minoan Crete believed in a mythical being that modern sailors don’t - sea-monsters. To their credit, Minoan seamen could tell stories of daring and adventure as was their voyager’s right. Not only were sea-monsters a possible threat but piracy on the seas was rampant. Piracy, in fact, was a long established part of Mediterranean culture and the Minoans, being a peace-loving people, were not likely to have had a militant navy to defend their seas.